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Article

Richard Grant

Accra is one of the largest and most important cities in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of this article is to assess the evolution of urban studies in Accra and its main historical and contemporary foci. Early knowledge on urban Accra is fragmentary and orientated toward European contact points and urban plans, ostensibly from the gaze of Europeans. Writings from Euro-Africans such as Carl Reindorf provide a different prism into the precolonial, indigenous, urban society, whereas most indigenous urban knowledge was situated in the oral tradition at this time. Around independence, officially appointed social anthropologists wrote about an indigenous community in Tema and surveyed the multiethnic Accra environment. From independence in 1957 until the early 1980s, social scientists viewed the urban settlement as an alien, Western intervention. Local scholarship on Accra was sidelined as the academy in a poor, emergent nation became preoccupied with the genesis of nation-state building and the establishment of viable academic departments in national universities, and growing proportions of migrants regarded “home” as somewhere else, that is, ancestral villages. In the 1970s Accra was inserted into world history and social history, and social scientists began to study residential geographies, but scholarship at the city-scale remained sparse. Engagement with world and social histories and the social sciences demonstrated that history matters, but not in linear and teleological ways. The liberalization era ushered in by structural adjustment policies (SAPs) in 1983 invigorated studies of Accra’s urban impacts and effects. Much of this research was disseminated by international scholars, as Ghanaian scholars had to contend with the negative impacts of SAPs on their own universities and households. Since the turn of the 21st century, scholarship on Accra, and African cities in general, has been increasing. Diverse research questions and a multiplicity of methodologies and frameworks seek to engage Western urban theories and other variants, undertake policy-relevant work, assess ethnic and residential dynamics, contribute to international urban debates, and advance postcolonial and revisionist accounts of urbanism. Viewed at the third decade of the 21st century, scholarship on Accra is of diverse origins, encompassing scholarship from locals, members of the diaspora, and international urbanists, and a promising tilt is local–international collaborations co-producing knowledge.

Article

The urbanization process in Argentina began with the installation of the first permanent settlement in the territory in 1527. During the early colonial period, settlers tried to move inland rather than establish towns on the Atlantic coast. Therefore, the main axis of urbanization strengthened the connection between the central zone with Alto Peru, reinforcing part of the existing indigenous territorial connection. Colonial cities, established by small groups of between twenty and fifty people, such as Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, Córdoba, and Mendoza, established relations with the territories of Chile, Peru, and Paraguay. Indigenous resistance to colonization was powerful: several cities from the colonial era were not successful and needed to be moved or disappeared. Other experiences such as the Jesuit missions emerged as other models of colonization aside from the traditional one. In this territorial scheme, the coastal region was marginalized from the central nucleus. The ports of the coast and of Buenos Aires fulfilled a defensive military function, although they also served illicit traffic between the Atlantic and Potosí. However, this traffic increased over time, and Buenos Aires progressively gained importance. In 1776, Buenos Aires became the capital of the recently created Viceroyalty of the Rio de La Plata, as a result of the Bourbon reforms. Therefore, during the 18th century, its port was legally opened to overseas traffic, and its hinterland was incorporated into world trade. This initiated a change in the region’s center of gravity, which moved from the interior to the River Plate coast. In this period, the Crown’s interest shifted from the establishment of an imperial structure to securing the marginal areas of the empire through permanent populations with a plan of new settlements in the frontier. This interest remained even after the Independence from the Spanish Crown (1816), in the Republican period. During the 19th century, hundreds of towns were established across the territory, mainly focused on agricultural production or extractive activities. A series of highly important technical advances reached the country. The most relevant was the railway, built at the end of the 1850s and systematically extended from the 1870s. Its installation structured the territory and encouraged the creation of urban centers mainly in the central area of the Pampas. However, further types of colonization emerged related to products such as sugar or yerba mate in other regions of the country. Traditional colonial urban centers, converted into provincial capitals, started several reforms during the 19th century in order to adapt to the changes proposed by this new territorial structure and the new republican spirit. European immigration played a preponderant role in the country’s urban and productive development. The greater availability of workers, in addition to many other economic development actions, contributed to considerably increasing agricultural exports from the 1870s and positioned Argentina among the largest exporters of raw materials worldwide. The resulting system of urbanization had far-reaching consequences for the general functioning of the country in the following centuries.

Article

Ocean Howell

San Francisco has a reputation as a liberal city. But history shows that San Francisco’s liberalism must be regarded as evolving, contested, and often internally contradictory. The land that became the city was originally home to the Yelamu people, a small tribe in the Ohlone language group. Spanish missionaries arrived in 1776, but the Spanish empire only had a tenuous hold on the place—it was the furthest outpost of empire. By 1821, when the Mexican government took the land, most of the Native population had perished from disease. Immediately after the Americans took the place, in 1848, gold was discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and the world rushed in. The population increased 2,400 percent in one year, and fewer than half of the new residents had been born anywhere in the United States. Well into the 20th century, elite San Franciscans worried that the rest of the country viewed their city as a barbarous place, full of foreign libertines seeking fortune and pleasure. These narratives masked the extent to which San Francisco’s economy was corporatized from the early days of the Gold Rush. They also present an image of racial liberalism that ultimately must be regarded as a myth. However, there is some truth in the view that the city has been a comparatively tolerant place, where various subcultures could thrive. San Francisco’s status as a bohemian place, a wide-open town, has always sat in tension with its role as a headquarters of global, corporate capital.

Article

The transformation of post-industrial American life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries includes several economically robust metropolitan centers that stand as new models of urban and economic life, featuring well-educated populations that engage in professional practices in education, medical care, design and legal services, and artistic and cultural production. By the early 21st century, these cities dominated the nation’s consciousness economically and culturally, standing in for the most dynamic and progressive sectors of the economy, driven by collections of technical and creative spark. The origins of these academic and knowledge centers are rooted in the political economy, including investments shaped by federal policy and philanthropic ambition. Education and health care communities were and remain frequently economically robust but also rife with racial, economic, and social inequality, and riddled with resulting political tensions over development. These information communities fundamentally incubated and directed the proceeds of the new economy, but also constrained who accessed this new mode of wealth in the knowledge economy.

Article

The tall building—the most popular and conspicuous emblem of the modern American city—stands as an index of economic activity, civic aspirations, and urban development. Enmeshed in the history of American business practices and the maturation of corporate capitalism, the skyscraper is also a cultural icon that performs genuine symbolic functions. Viewed individually or arrayed in a “skyline,” there may be a tendency to focus on the tall building’s spectacular or superlative aspects. Their patrons have searched for the architectural symbols that would project a positive public image, yet the height and massing of skyscrapers were determined as much by prosaic financial calculations as by symbolic pretense. Historically, the production of tall buildings was linked to the broader flux of economic cycles, access to capital, land values, and regulatory frameworks that curbed the self-interests of individual builders in favor of public goods such as light and air. The tall building looms large for urban geographers seeking to chart the shifting terrain of the business district and for social historians of the city who examine the skyscraper’s gendered spaces and labor relations. If tall buildings provide one index of the urban and regional economy, they are also economic activities in and of themselves and thus linked to the growth of professions required to plan, finance, design, construct, market, and manage these mammoth collective objects—and all have vied for control over the ultimate result. Practitioners have debated the tall building’s external expression as the design challenge of the façade became more acute with the advent of the curtain wall attached to a steel frame, eventually dematerializing entirely into sheets of reflective glass. The tall building also reflects prevailing paradigms in urban design, from the retail arcades of 19th-century skyscrapers to the blank plazas of postwar corporate modernism.

Article

Atlanta  

Jessica Ann Levy

The city of Atlanta sits on land once occupied by Creek and Cherokee Indians, whose forced removal during the late 18th and early 19th centuries as part of white settler colonialism preceded and helped to set the stage for Atlanta’s founding in 1837 as the terminus for the Western & Atlantic railroad. Henceforth, Atlanta’s rise has been shaped by various, and sometimes competing, events occurring at the local, state, national, and international level, including slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the New Deal, World War II, the civil rights and Black Power movements, the LGBTQ rights struggle, and multiple transportation and communications technology revolutions. Throughout its history, Atlanta’s role as a center of trade and commerce has attracted migrants from across the region, country, and, more recently, the globe, contributing to the city’s incredible diversity. Such diversity, coupled with a history of radical organizing, has lent credence to Atlanta’s reputation as a bastion of progressive politics, hailed as both a Black and LGBTQ mecca. Yet, make no mistake, Atlanta has long been a city deeply divided along lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, and religion. As the 2021 attack on several Asian-owned massage parlors and the continuous flood of visitors to Stone Mountain each summer, delighting in a popular light show set against a Confederate monument suggest, the city still has a long way to go to live up to its claim as the capital of the New South.

Article

Brazil’s political imagination under the monarchy sought to associate the grandeur of its territory with an idealized image of the national state under construction. Whether they praised or deplored Brazil’s natural setting, representations of the establishment of an enormous country in the tropics tended to be generic and superficial. Some men of science, however, followed a more pragmatic path, seeking to understand Brazil’s environmental diversity and criticizing the destructive use of its natural resources. A significant effort was made to distinguish among the various types of forests and savannas found within Brazil’s borders. As regions developed at different rates of economic and demographic density, this variety of natural formations influenced their growth in complex ways. The interaction was marked by four basic modes of socioeconomic activity: export agriculture; agriculture to supply local markets; ranching; and the extraction of flora, fauna, and minerals. Each of these modes entailed environmental problems. For the elites who controlled the pace and direction of regional occupation, however, the immensity of the territory produced a sense of unlimited frontier and abundance that made any concern for the conservation or cautious management of natural resources appear unnecessary. Meanwhile, the growth of cities, with their attendant problems of insalubrity and access to water, opened up a cosmopolitan space for intellectual and scientific debates. Several environmental themes such as climatic determinism and the relationship between slave-based agriculture and the destruction of soils and forests figured prominently in the cultural and political concerns of that age.

Article

Simon Balto and Max Felker-Kantor

The relationship between policing and crime in American history has been tenuous at best. In fact, policing and crime are imperfectly correlated. Crime is understood as a socially constructed category that varies over time and space. Crime in the American city was produced by the actions of police officers on the street and the laws passed by policymakers that made particular behaviors, often ones associated with minoritized people, into something called “crime.” Police create a statistical narrative about crime through the behaviors and activities they choose to target as “crime.” As a result, policing the American city has functionally reinforced the nation’s dominant racial and gender hierarchies as much as (or more so) than it has served to ensure public safety or reduce crime. Policing and the production of crime in the American city has been broadly shaped by three interrelated historical processes: racism, xenophobia, and capitalism. As part of these processes, policing took many forms across space and time. From origins in the slave patrols in the South, settler colonial campaigns of elimination in the West, and efforts to put down striking workers in the urban North, the police evolved into the modern, professional forces familiar to many Americans in the early 21st century. The police, quite simply, operated to uphold a status quo based on unequal and hierarchical racial, ethnic, and economic orders. Tracing the history of policing and crime from the colonial era to the present demonstrates the ways that policing has evolved through a dialectic of crisis and reform. Moments of protest and unrest routinely exposed the ways policing was corrupt, violent, and brutal, and did little to reduce crime in American cities. In turn, calls for reform produced “new” forms of policing (what was often referred to as professionalization in the early and mid-20th century and community policing in the 21st). But these reforms did not address the fundamental role or power of police in society. Rather, these reforms often expanded it, producing new crises, new protests, and still more “reforms,” in a seemingly endless feedback loop. From the vantage point of the 21st century, this evolution demonstrates the inability of reform or professionalization to address the fundamental role of police in American society. In short, it is a history that demands a rethinking of the relationship between policing and crime, the social function of the police, and how to achieve public safety in American cities.

Article

Mombasa  

Justin Willis

Mombasa is the product of ongoing contests. Those contests have been about labor (both waged and unwaged): who should do what kind of work, and on what terms? They have been about land: who controls the right to build or cultivate, and what terms can they demand of potential users? They have also been about commerce: who has the right to control and tax the goods that have been traded in and through Mombasa, and who sets the terms of that trade? Those contests have often been pursued through force: Mombasa’s past can be told as a story of violent struggles over political power. Yet the contestants have also mobilized competing ideas of rights that constantly recur to ideas about identity and belonging. Where people belong has been a source of constant and sometimes violent dispute: who is an immigrant, and who is at home? Where “Mombasa” itself belongs has also been disputed: Is it part of Kenya, part of the coast, or part of an Indian Ocean world that stretches far across the sea? Life in the urban phenomenon that is Mombasa in the 21st century is shaped by these continuing contests: It is a divided city in which people live very different lives in an uneasily shared space.

Article

Housing has been a central feature of Latin America’s dramatic transformation into the most urbanized region of the world. Between 1940 and 1970, the portion of people who lived in urban areas rose from 33 percent to 64 percent; a seismic shift that caused severe housing deficits, overcrowding, and sprawl in Latin America’s major cities. After the Second World War, these urban slums became a symbol of underdevelopment and a target for state-led modernization projects. At a time when Cold War tensions were escalating throughout the world, the region’s housing problems also became more politicized through a network of foreign aid agencies. These overlapping factors illustrate how the history of local housing programs were bound up with broader hemispheric debates over economic development and the role of the nation-state in social affairs. The history of urban housing in 20th-century Latin America can be divided into three distinct periods. The first encompasses the beginning of the 20th century, when issues of housing in the central-city districts were primarily viewed through the lens of public health. Leading scientists, city planners, psychiatrists, and political figures drew strong connections between the sanitary conditions of private domiciles and the social behavior of their residents in public spaces. After the Second World War, urban housing became a proving ground for popular ideas in the social sciences that stressed industrialization and technological modernization as the way forward for the developing world. In this second period, mass housing was defined by a central tension: the promotion of modernist housing complexes versus self-help housing—a process in which residents build their own homes with limited assistance from the state. By the 1970s, the balance had shifted from modernist projects to self-help housing, a development powerfully demonstrated by the 1976 United Nations (UN) Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I). This seminal UN forum marked a transitional moment when the concepts of self-help community development were formally adopted by emergent, neo-liberal economists and international aid agencies.

Article

Enrico Cesaretti, Roberta Biasillo, and Damiano Benvegnú

Does something like “Italian environmental humanities” exist? If so, what makes an Italian approach to this multifaceted field of inquiry so different from the more consolidated Anglo-American tradition? At least until the early 21st century, Italian academic institutions have maintained established disciplinary boundaries and have continued to produce siloed forms of knowledge. New and more flexible forms of scholarly collaboration have also not been traditionally supported at the national level, as political decisions regarding curricular updates and funding opportunities have been unable to foster interdisciplinarity and innovative approaches to knowledge production. However, an underlying current of environmental awareness and action has a strong and long-standing presence in Italy. After all, Italy is where St. Francis wrote The Canticle of Creatures, with its non-hierarchical vision of the world, which then inspired the papal encyclical Laudato si (2015). Italy is also where Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s fresco The Allegory and the Effects of Good Government in the City and in the Country (1337–1339) already “pre-ecologically” reflected on the relationship between nature and culture, on the effect of political decisions on our surroundings, and on the impact of local environments on the well-being (as well as the malaise) of their inhabitants. Additionally, Italy is among the few countries in the world whose constitution lists specific laws aimed at protecting its landscapes, biodiversity, and ecosystems in addition to its cultural heritage, as stated in a recent addendum to articles 9 and 41. However, Italy also experienced an abrupt, violent process of development, modernization, and industrialization that radically transformed its urban, rural, and coastal territories after World War II. Many of its landscapes, once iconic and picturesque, have become polluted, toxic, or the outcome of contested, violent histories. And the effects of globalization are materially affecting its ecologies, meaning that Italy is also exposed to constant risks (earthquakes, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions) and presents geo-morphological features that situate it at the very center of planetary climate change (both atmospheric and sociopolitical) and migration patterns. Considering this, thinking about Italy from an environmental humanities (EH) perspective and, in turn, about the EH in the context of Italy, highlights the interconnections between the local and the global and, in the process, enriches the EH debate.

Article

The photo-text has variously been defined as any interaction in which textual material, whether captions, prose, poetry, quotes, or reportage, is augmented by photographic illustrations. Nonetheless, as a genre distinct from other photo-textual modes of interaction the photo-text took on certain specific qualities from its very inception in the mid-19th century, particularly when it emerged as a book form with a clear agenda and narrative trajectory. The qualities of the photo-text since then have hinged on the importance given to the photographic material, how it is placed and operates vis-à-vis the textual, and on the fact that the interaction between text and photography is intrinsic to the aim and methods of the project at hand. In this respect, the photo-text perfectly encapsulates many of the ideas, themes, and concepts that photographic historians and critics have debated since the popularization of the camera in the 19th century: What is the purpose of photography in documentary terms? Can the abilities of the camera as a realist mode of representation operate as a creative and artistic medium at the same time? To investigate the possibility that there is a distinct heritage of photo-textual work also means thinking more closely about how various tropes and concerns reappear in photo-textual collaborations regardless of decade or century. Across various generic concerns, political or aesthetic, and across various artistic challenges, gendered or class-based, the photo-text remains a medium in which the political nature of representation necessarily comes to the forefront, particularly when we are called upon to consider the ways in which writing affects how we look at photographs and vice versa.